War is a different conversation for military families

War is a different conversation for military families

by Lisa Smith Molinari
The Meat and Potatoes of Life

“Dad, are your military friends in crisis mode because of the war in Ukraine?” our 24-year-old daughter Anna asked. She was home from her fashion job in New York City for the weekend, and was sewing a vest in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. She planned to auction the vest online, and donate the proceeds to a Ukrainian relief fund.

Obviously, war was on her mind.

“What do you mean?” said my husband, Francis, who retired from the Navy five years ago.

Anna clarified her question. “Aren’t military people getting briefed on the war, making preparations, flying overseas, marching around, deploying, or whatever?”

“Well, not necessarily,” Francis said. “It depends upon their area of responsibility. Every military person is assigned to a command that covers a specific area of the world. Only those commands assigned to the areas affected by the Ukraine War would be involved. Make sense?”

Anna’s brown eyes darted as scenes played out in her head. She seemed stressed, emotional, trying to contemplate that which is incomprehensible.

It occurred to me, our kids have no concept of modern war. There hasn’t exactly been worldwide peace since 9/11, but Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been the first highly visible war in decades.

It also occurred to me that we, as parents, may not be equipped to help our young adult children understand it all. I wondered, are they seeing images of bloody conflict and worrying that it might happen in the U.S.? Do they read about biological weapons and nuclear bombs and fear that we’re on the brink of a World War?

I searched for advice on how parents should talk to children about war in Ukraine, hoping to find wisdom that could guide discussions with our young adult children. The suggestions in the articles I read made sense: Limit children’s exposure to potentially frightening media. Ask children to share what they’ve heard and seen. Give facts and context. Offer a safe space to share their feelings. Talk about bad decisions, but not bad people. Read positive stories about people helping. Reassure them that it is your job to protect them.

However, one guide stated that, depending on the child’s age, there may be no need bring the topic of war up, “unless they have a family member in the military.”

Ah, there’s the catch.

Talking about war is different for military kids, because they know certain things about military life. They know that, when fights happen in far away places, sometimes military parents are called upon to help. They know parents might have to go away for months at a time. They know parents’ military jobs might put them in danger. They’ve heard stories about military parents who never came home.

When searching for advice specifically geared toward military children, I found "Talking to Children About Armed Conflict" (2015) by Family Science Specialist, Sean Brotherson, Ph.D., stating that addressing military children’s reactions to news of war “is particularly important because these issues directly relate to their military family life.” I contacted Professor Brotherson to pick his brain.

“Children in military families grow up in a unique context that makes their experiences different from other peers,” he told me, because acts of violence create a compounded sense of uncertainty, fear and insecurity in children with military parents. “In times of war or conflict, taking the extra time needed to listen to one's children and allow them to share their feelings can do much to reassure them. Also, connecting with other military families who have kids that understand can help them feel reassured … Finally, try to find small ways that your children might get involved in helping those affected by war, whether sending cards or gathering items needed for humanitarian assistance. Being proactive and reassuring in small ways can help children feel more in control when things around them seem out of control.”

Anna might be 24, but having grown up in the military, she is understandably anxious about this new war, and is seeking ways to cope. She’s back in New York, determined to finish her Ukrainian flag vest, and do what she can to help.


Read more at the website, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email.

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